For the inaugural decoding, I’ve chosen Judith Beck’s 2013 Blaufränkisch Alte Lagen 2013, from Austria, for a number of reasons.
First, it is a favourite here at Anthroenology. (In the spirit of full disclosure, Judith Beck is someone we’ve been talking to and working with on the project, although there is no compensation involved.)
Second, when I recently ordered some to use in wine tastings, it arrived with a slip of paper, in German and English, giving a more technical description than is found on the wine bottle itself. I thought it would thus make an interesting case study, to illustrate different ways of talking about the same wine.
The back of the wine bottle translates as:
I do not need a house with a garden. The vineyards are my trees, roses, meadows and pastures full of fragrances and bees. There ripen the grapes for these 750 ml of Austrian dry organic quality wine (Bio-Qualitätswein) from Burgenland, may they give you as much pleasure as they do us. Spontaneously fermented and carefully vinified to 13% ABV. Bottled by Judith Beck GmbH, Reben 1 in A-7122 Gols.
This is an interesting wine label. It doesn’t really tell you anything about what the wine will taste like. Rather, it is an evocative description, one that aims to convey how the winemaker sees her relation to the land, the grapes, and by extension, the wine. It suggests dedication and passion, but also a range of experiences, aromas and by extension, flavours.
There is some more technical information contained in the second and third sentences. Bio-Qualitätswein, which I’ve translated rather literally as ‘organic quality wine’ tells us two things. The ‘Bio-‘ part means it is certified organic according to EU regulations. ‘Qualitätswein’ is a category of wine in Austria and Germany. To qualify for this category, the wine must come from a specified region (in this case, Burgenland) and be made from certain grape varieties, of which there are 35. The wine also must be at least 9% ABV, and have a minimum must weight (a measure of sugar in the ‘juice’ prior to fermenting). In other words, Qualitätswein is usually taken as an indicator of a better quality wine than, say, ‘Tafelwein’ (table wine). (The truth is more complicated, but as a first approximation, it suffices.)
The other bit that tells us something is the ‘spontaneously fermented.’ This means they’ve used the natural, wild yeasts growing on the grapes, rather than a commercially available, cultured yeast. You may see wines described as using natural or wild yeasts, which means the same thing.
Such an approach is typical of people who produce biodynamic and low-intervention wines. It’s a more risky, less controlled approach to wine-making, as it is less predictable. But its proponents (and we happen to be among them) would argue that it makes wine more interesting. It also makes, many people would argue, a wine that is more reflective of the region it is made in, as wild yeast populations will vary from place to place – even from vineyard to vineyard.
In sum, then, the label suggests someone who feels passionate about their wine, takes pride in it, and is trying to produce a wine that is close to the environment. It still doesn’t tell you much about what the wine will taste like, but it may entice someone to try it.
In the next post, I’ll look at the more technical note on this wine.
(Featured image: detail of an Enigma machine, used for coding and decoding messages in World War II. By Antoine Taveneaux (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)